Taking Care Of Business

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Gone Fishin’ (1997) is one of the most insane buddy movies I’ve ever seen. Jill Mazursky’s scripting is a work of comic genius run amok like a manic Jerry Lewis on cocaine. It isn’t a great film, but it’s better than one would expect, and definitely quite memorable. Mazursky’s real skill is in creating the most outlandish situations, pushing them to their furthest extremes, and then finding some kind of heartfelt beat or moment behind all of the insanity. This is why Gone Fishin’ works as well as it does.

Her earlier effort, written with J.J. Abrams and directed by Arthur Hiller, Taking Care Of Business (1990) has all the makings of Gone Fishin’ except for that one special ingredient. Unlike Gone Fishin’ this film focuses more on what could best be called “attempts at having heart” than on the wild comedy and bizarre situations. The comedy of Taking Care Of Business is constantly held back by some impulse to make the protagonists endearing or charming. Cartoon logic is discarded in favor of “family friendly” posturing that totally inhibits any serious comic invention.

I had similar issues with Hiller’s other films, especially my personal favorite The Lonely Guy (1984), where it felt as it the film were being torn between two different directions and interpretations of the material. Hiller all but wastes Charles Grodin and James Belushi in Taking Care Of Business. Luckily, the charisma of either leading man is enough to keep a viewer invested or else Taking Care Of Business might well have been one of the worst movies I have ever seen. As in Hiller’s The Lonely Guy Charles Grodin steals every scene he’s in. Belushi, to his credit, is able to imbue his character with enough boyish traits that he’s easily forgiven for his transgressions.

The biggest surprise of Taking Care Of Business is Gates McFadden (John de Lancie has a small part in this as well). McFadden will forever be Dr. Beverly Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation it’s true, but seeing McFadden’s other work one realizes just how wasted her talents are on this beloved television show. As Diane Connors, McFadden is sexy, authoritative, and really funny as Belushi’s straight man. Her scenes were some of the best moments in the entire film, and I was disappointed that her character was demonized when I saw no motivation for it other than the typical mysogyny that characterizes most comedies of this period.

So even though Taking Care Of Business isn’t as good as Gone Fishin’, I’d still recommend it to fans of Grodin, Belushi, and McFadden. There’s also probably some nostalgic appeal to those in my generation who grew up watching these stupid kinds of comedies. Check it out.